Churches face many change challenges in being faithful to our calling. Yesterday, Mark Tremblay, minister at Knox Presbyterian, was the guest preacher at Evening Grace and his message surprised me as it was given in the cathedral church for the Presbyterians in southern Alberta. He challenged several assumptions Presbyterians make about how church should be done, and he lifted up the issue of idolatry — worshipping things before God, actually worshipping a different god, and sacred cows. A lot of what he said also applies to most churches, including United Churches.
This morning, I read the blog post by Carey Nieuwhof on why ministry is more challenging now than 10 years ago. This is one of his last comments. “Everyone who’s not in church is online. Go to them if they haven’t come to you.”
Part of the core of Mark’s message is that we are called to be loving. Anything we believe or do that blocks us from loving others is inappropriate for people who are following Jesus. If we are unwilling to change so we can be loving, we have encountered a sacred cow or an idol or we are worshipping another God, not the one revealed to us by Jesus.
Churches today face many challenges from material ones like money and maintenance to organizational ones like choosing staff and relating to each other effectively, and on to being increasingly seen as irrelevant by most of society.
Most of our external challenges are related to internal issues, the key ones being putting our inherited church culture ahead of our calling to follow Jesus. As Mark said last evening, most people in church today accept we need to change. However finding changes that will work and changes that will be acceptable to members challenge us greatly.
Parts of the challenge are the mostly hidden emotional stories underneath the resistance to various changes being offered. I am reading the first book of a Ken Follett trilogy (Century) titled Fall of Giants. One of the characters is a father, union leader, and church elder who is extremely strict on religious stuff. When his daughter becomes pregnant, the resulting conflict between him and the rest of the family reveals his story that his father did not know who his father was, and he spent his early years in a brothel. The grandfather found Jesus and, in that discovery, embarked on a life with a much different path than his mother’s path. The shame the father in the story felt about his past shaped his narrow religiosity. There are thousands of stories similar in some ways to this story that shape what happens in churches and colour responses to proposed changes. The kinds of changes considered by churches are shaped by circumstances. The presentation of those changes needs to happen respectfully and pastorally if they are to provide the most benefit to a congregation.
We need to decide, each of us, how important it is to follow Jesus, and how important it is to offer loving connections to anyone we encounter in church settings.
Our challenges include being able and willing to love, being aware of the consequences of what we do, and building relationships in our various communities of faith that help us influence how the community of faith responds to opportunities to be more loving in how we relate to each other in the community and to others outside of the community.
Can we love enough to care and to dare to share God’s love?